Success Means Building Power

The story of power is woven into every push for something better. It’s a chronic struggle between those seeking change and those who guard the status quo.

And when the sought-after change requires one party to give up some power and money to move toward justice, the equation is very lopsided.

Racial, health, economic and social justice require a rebalancing of power and resources. And the power and resources are most often held by corporations and institutions that benefit from the status quo, and government. Systemic racism, discrimination, and poverty also obstruct health justice. 

When powerful interests like Hartford HealthCare, the state’s largest health care system, want to do something that negatively impacts a poor, rural community in northeast Connecticut – the only way to fight back is to organize and build community voice and power.

The fight for essential health services at a community hospital

Windham Hospital was acquired by the larger, better-resourced Hartford HealthCare system. In the past decade, Hartford HealthCare has eroded its investment in the local community and funneled business to other hospitals in its system.

In 2015, Windham Hospital closed its intensive care unit. Long story short, the slippery slope created by that decision led to the closure of labor and delivery services in 2020. Essential health services are being siphoned away from the community.

Windham and Windham County are in a medically underserved part of the state and the people living there suffer from health disparities that are made worse by disinvestment.

The power equation is working for Hartford HealthCare’s bottom line and against Windham area families, particularly Black and Brown women of childbearing age. Access to quality care is hampered by fewer choices, limited incomes, and transportation challenges. Women in labor must travel 30-45 minutes on rural two-lane roads to get to a hospital – sometimes delivering in an ambulance.

Getting organized to take back power 

Windham area residents said, “enough is enough” and started to organize. In 2020, a local coalition formed out of community anger and frustration. The call was to restore an essential community health service – delivering babies.

Windham United to Save Our Healthcare – a coalition of community members, health care advocacy groups, the AFT labor union representing nurses and staff at Windham Hospital, women’s reproductive health care groups, immigrant advocates and the local NAACP chapter got together to fight back.

The group organized:

  • Hundreds of community petition signatures
  • Vigils outside the hospital
  • Presence at community events (street fests, parades, etc.)
  • A Facebook platform to communicate and educate
  • Extensive local, state, and national media coverage
  • Video stories of impacted people
  • Passage of 3 local town government resolutions opposing the closure of labor & delivery
  • Support from local legislators and Attorney General William Tong
  • Online education forums

Power begins to shift

Windham United to Save Our Healthcare shifted the power dynamic – putting Hartford HealthCare on the defensive and exposing the troubling decisions made to syphon health care resources from a community in need. The noise and increased public exposure organized by the coalition spurred decision-makers and policymakers to take a closer look at what was really going on.

In July, the state regulatory entity, Office of Health Strategy, determined that Windham Hospital did not meet five of the eight criteria to close labor and delivery services. (The hospital may challenge the decision.)

The legislature voted to create a task force to review the state’s regulatory oversight of hospital decisions to expand or terminate services and facilities, with recommendations for action due in January 2023.

Media coverage of Windham’s struggle and other communities across the state faced with health care cuts from hospitals has blown open the public profile of this issue. 

Justice needs sustained power

The restoration of labor and delivery services at Windham Hospital will require sustained organizing and advocacy. The muscle for community power has grown, but it needs to be constantly exercised.

We should all take a page from the Windham fight: Investing in organizing for power is key if we want to see justice in our lives.